It makes its first appearance at the 2:25 mark. For the next twenty seconds it keeps perfectly still. Slowly, the inky bob lingering above turns, wanes, and reveals a face in profile. The face sings. Then, suddenly — at 2:45 — it happens.
In one swift motion Kimbra yawns her shoulders back, slinks fluidly to her left, and wraps herself snugly in your memory forever. Can a back be stunning? Kimbra has a stunning back. There are 324,593,269 views on the official “Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra)” video, and I would guess a good four million of those views — easy — are pure back-stalking. In a video that also features Gotye’s Oscar The Grouch-sized maw, it is, incredibly, the body part that makes the biggest impression.
Kimbra released her debut album, Vows, in August of 2011, just one month after “STIUtK” first hit the airwaves. Though it would be a few months before Gotye’s single made its splash in the States, and nearly a year before Vows found release here, the relative synchronism of the two releases has served to benefit both parties: Kimbra, obviously, by gifting her an enormous and unexpected wave of exposure (you need only type “someb” into Google before it guesses what you probably mean), and Gotye, too, by juicing his earnest mid-tempo ballad (lots of Sting comparisons have been made) with the presence inventive and enigmatic new artist.
“[Vows] started with me in my bedroom, and moving to Melbourne and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got all the songs for my album,’ and then realizing — actually, you know, I can probably do better,” says Kimbra.
The album took three and a half years to reach completion, with input coming from a variety of sources.
“I started work with Francois Tetaz, who worked with Gotye — and I’m a big fan of his production because he worked on Wolf Creek which is a really great horror film in Australia. He did a lot of soundtracks and I just thought that would really be interesting to work with someone who did horror film soundtracks — to experience something different [laughs].
“I then went on to work with a more kind of hip hop/R&B producer in Australia called M-Phazes. He worked on a lot of the songs with me — I wanted to try different angles. Within that I was also doing a lot of the record at home in my bedroom, and kind of doing a lot of the production myself.”
The fine-tuning paid off. Vows is an engaging and beguiling listen, at once genre-bending and reassuringly familiar. The voice you know from the inescapable “STIUtK” — deep and aching but also, impossibly, smooth and whispery — is here, but the context has changed. The music on Vows is varied and surprising, its mood shifting rapidly between haunted and buoyant. You will not simply want to listen to the album more than once, but probably have to, in order to fully grasp its whole. A pop record at heart, the album features some irresistibly catchy songwriting of its own as well, particularly opening track and lead single “Settle Down.”
Kimbra will round out 2012 with her first headline tour of America, followed by “a whole lot of Australian festivals.” A new music video, for the single “Come Into My Head” (verdict: there’s not nearly enough of her back) was just released; she also has a song (“With My Hands”) featured on the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s upcoming stop-motion comedy Frankenweenie. In between everything, she plans on to begin work soon on the follow-up to Vows.
“I hope that the music will evolve in a way that continues to defy expectations in some way, and just feels like it’s going in a direction that’s honest and for the right reasons.”
So far, she’s given the world no reason to doubt that it will.
Written by: Tadgh Ferry